The lack of access to land and money, to information, policy-making processes and necessary social networks, translate to more suffering for women
Ranking sixth on the Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh is highly prone to natural disasters, and women in particular are highly vulnerable to this phenomenon.
Extreme weather events such as deadly cyclones, rising sea levels, floods and droughts wreak more of a havoc on women than men.
Although Bangladesh has become a role model for its climate change adaptation model, for women, the lack of access to assets such as land and money, restricted access to information, policy-making processes and necessary social networks, translate to more suffering.
To shed light on this issue, the UN Women on Monday brought all government and non-government stakeholders, including grass-roots women, to hear their concerns on climate change.
Speaking at the event, participants said women from rural and dilapidated char areas are most vulnerable to climate change.
Nahida Sultana from Jamalpur said women in these areas mostly rear animals for their livelihoods. During natural disasters, the domestic animals have to be sold for low prices.
Those involved in farming also lose their lands, and with it, their only means of income.
Lack of sanitation and safe water in shelters also cause women to suffer from various diseases such as diarrhoea and urinary tract infections.
Furthermore, women are also sexually harassed in storm shelters.
However, they rarely speak up against such situations in the fear that no man will marry them and they will become social outcasts.
Rokeya from Chakaria, Cox's Bazar, said another problem that impacts women more is the medicine crisis during natural calamities. Union Parishad members and NGO representatives often delay in providing medicine and relief to these vulnerable groups.
Pregnant women suffer the most due to a lack of sufficient number of ambulances or other modes of transportation to take pregnant women to hospitals and ensure immediate and proper treatment during natural disasters.
Lipika Rani Boiragi from Khulna said the rise of saline water affects trees, croplands and fisheries. Women suffer the most from soil salinity as managing food and livelihood is their major concern, speakers said.
In the post-disaster period, women also have no access to nutritious food.
Additionally, they also face menstrual cycle related problems as they lack adequate latrines and sanitary napkins.
Aynul Kabir, additional secretary at Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said, "The Bangladesh government is working towards raising awareness about menstrual health in rural areas among grassroots women.
"They are working to provide sanitary napkins to adolescent girls and to improve the condition of toilets for females," he said, adding that these measures are underway to prevent the spread of hygiene related diseases among women.
"Forty-three ministries are already providing gender-responsive budgets to grassroots level women to educate them on menstrual health issues."
Mirza Showkat Ali, director of the Department of Environment, said the government has initiated some gender action plans to empower women.
"Bangladesh also has a plan to undertake a gender responsive programme with the funds from the Green Climate Fund," he added.
Furthermore, the government has undertaken a $5.2 million project for drought control and safeguarding the residents of char area, particularly focusing on destitute women.
Another project worth $10 million will provide livelihood support to grassroots people, especially poor women.
Another project titled "National Adaption Plan" has been in action since November 6 to improve agriculture and water in the rural areas, along with focusing on gender-responsiveness.
In response to these gender specific problems, UN Women and UN Environment have mutually initiated a project titled "EmPower-Women for Climate Resilient Societies," funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), in order to help women access climate change technology and be more gender-responsive.
The project focuses on helping a range of beneficiaries including women leaders, rural women, marginalised communities, local, national and regional civil society organisations, subnational and national policymakers and regional intergovernmental organisations working on climate change and disaster risk reduction.
Speakers at the event identified geographical inequality as one of the most persistent problems – women in the urban areas and in the remote villages do not have the same access to information.
Those in rural areas receive information late.
Stakeholders at the event suggested other climate adaptation options, such as elevating latrines and tube wells, floating farms, creating and preparing soil beds for seed plantation, and forming emergency responsive teams in upazila and union levels to treat the affected persons.
They also recommended harvesting rain water to be used for drinking during times of natural disasters and to prevent outbreak of water borne diseases.
To overcome the loss of livelihood, alternative skills like sewing and making handicrafts or micro-scale enterprises could be introduced to women, stakeholders suggested.
They urged the government and the NGOs to ensure disaster relief are being sent promptly to aid the women in disaster stricken areas.